All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy – and one very bad night for the Batman. Six years and four games after his first foray into the madhouse, the Dark Knight Detective’s finally come to the end of his run and even his life at the hand of an enemy he can’t see and a past he can’t escape. Few have cast as large a shadow over the character in recent years than Rocksteady Studios. Fewer still can lay claim to a more fitting finale. Batman: Arkham Knight then lays to rest a trilogy that defined one of the world’s most beloved superheroes in the spirit of its hero, warts and all.
A year after Arkham City shut its doors, Gotham’s never felt safer only to see its short-lived peace broken by the return of The Scarecrow one Halloween night. Wielding a new strain of fear toxin, the madman declares open season on the panic-stricken city, leaving the general populace to evacuate. With only criminals and the police left on the streets, Scarecrow’s soldiers move in to disperse a gas cloud that could threaten the greater East Coast, all under the eyes of Batman’s equal – the elusive Arkham Knight. It’s then our very own tall, dark, and brooding to save the night, if not himself, before all of Gotham goes mad.
Zero Spoilers Follow
Though it may not be the living, breathing Gotham City you imagined, the urban landscape of Arkham Knight is no less a sight to see and explore. Its sprawling skyline stands against the storming skies like a monument out of time, the brooding atmosphere of its neon-soaked skyscrapers and gothic statuary evoking scenes torn from the pages of Jeph Loeb’s graphic novels and the dystopian imagery of Blade Runner. Cafés and cars gleam with a kind of 50s and 60s chic thrown in with a grabbing neo-noir flair. Gliding up and down the city is breathtaking – enough to make you enjoy your extended airtime to take in the view. Easter eggs also abound, with Bruce Wayne’s own answering machine among the best.
On a technical level, Arkham Knight performs rather smoothly – at least, comparably so to its disastrous PC port. Though it may pale in comparison to the likes of Grand Theft Auto V or Watch Dogs, Gotham’s easily the largest playground in the series’ history and maintains a genuinely stable frame-rate for it. Despite some infrequent hiccups (including some laughably bad lip-synching and contorted animations) the Xbox One version’s clean as a whistle as much as this writer could tell. Graphically, the visuals are as advertised and Arkham Knight’s arguably one of the most “next-gen” looking games on the market down to the smallest rain drops running down Batman’s chinny-chin-chin.
Batman’s utility belt includes the usual number of toys, but it’s the gravity-defying Batmobile that’s the biggest weapon in his arsenal, if not the game’s most unfortunate Achilles heel. The lumbering cousin to The Dark Knight‘s Tumbler and Batman Returns‘s dragster, Arkham Knight‘s Batmobile encounters every speed bump the game’s design has to offer. As an adequate means of fast-travel, the Batmobile’s handles simply enough, akin to an old-school arcade racer. Roaring through the streets in high speed pursuits turning enemy vehicles into scrap metal is just plain fun, if not for the questionable physics involved. Getting turned over like a jet-black pancake’s thoroughly exasperating and hell on the game’s timed races.
In addition, the Batmobile’s “Battle Mode” transforms it into a makeshift tank to combat the Arkham Knight’s automated war machines in his seemingly endless volume of grueling, shoot-’em-up mini-games. These work fine on paper and might even in practice had it not been for the game’s insistence at using them at even the slightest opportunity. Tank sequences plague the majority of the main campaign and while multiple enemy classes attempt to break up the monotony, they can’t disguise their insufferable redundancy. It doesn’t help matters that it’s a stealth tank battle, of all things, that comprises the game’s worst and maybe only true boss battle. The Batmobile’s best when it’s a part of the game’s creative puzzles, but otherwise, we know why Batman doesn’t use guns.
Of course, Batman’s best guns are the ones he flexes in the mirror. The series’s trademark free-flow combat is as fast, furious, and brutal as ever – so much so that you have to wonder whether Batman’s knock-out punches are actually deathblows. Taking after Middle earth: Shadow of Mordor, you can hit enemies when their down, making fights a lot more dynamic against as many as 50 enemy AI onscreen. If you love a straight up fist fight, the city’s rioting gangs allow plenty of opportunities. If you like a sneakier approach, freezing thugs in their tracks with the game’s new “fear-takedowns” never gets old and botched sneaks attack allows you a generous fight or flight option.
Like Arkham City, side quests are a delight in Arkham Knight which have Batman rounding up a rogues gallery worth of the usual suspects for Gotham’s finest. Penguin, Two-Face, Azrael, and a few other familiar faces round out the list with a few bottom-of-the-barrel surprises, some with their own priceless dialogue. They add a good ten hours to the game’s twenty-hour campaign, the best of which see the return of Arkham Origins‘s CSI sequences and the worst of which have you just chasing Firefly. Side quests also play host to the game’s character cross-overs and the guilty pleasure that is Arkham Knight’s scripted dual-play, which on one occasion sees Batman and Robin hilariously tag-teaming a deranged boxer like rock-’em, sock ’em robots.
Question: who’s the most diabolical villain in Gotham City? Answer: The Riddler. Like Arkham City and Arkham Asylum before it, the mastermind’s spread hundreds of his usual trophies across the city for you to find and puzzles to solve, even the least of which will test your mettle. Not content to stick to hi routine of block puzzles and word games (of which there are plenty), The Riddler’s set up Batmobile races I can only describe as evil, complete with The Riddler’s smarmy banter. The challenge here is at its best and will keep you playing all the way to the true end credits – not the laughable post-game boss.
Some of the story beats in Arkham Knight are just as perplexing, some of them including Batman, all of them involving The Arkham Knight. The game does its best to play up the man behind the mask, but what it comes up with it falls flat long before it’s spelled out for you. Batman’s characterization further sees him telling off telling off his allies at any given moment and the main plot reduces female character to helpless hostages. The Scarecrow, meanwhile, makes for a suitably creepy puppet master relegated to being more a vehicle for the game’s fantastic last act than a main attraction. The voice work from Kevin Conroy, John Noble, Troy Baker, are all spot-on as you’d expect, minus the woefully miscast Jonathan Banks as a monotone Commissioner Gordon.
As its rating suggests, Arkham Knight flirts with some of the darkest source material in Batman’s library, handpicking the grim work of Frank Miller and Alan Moore for some truly jaw-dropping moments. To that end, it’s disheartening that it pull its punches, rebooting its own plot twists under the excuse of “It was all fear toxin!”. Nevertheless, it’s one creative compromise that should leave fans with some fitting closure with a head-spinning payoff you have to see to believe, all while shutting a literal door on Batman’s past in a fiendishly clever way. The game’s three unlockable endings are another matter: the first’s bad, the second’s good, the third’s simply bat sh*t crazy and available only by completing everything. Save yourself the trouble and just ignore the last altogether. It’s worth it.
Batman: Arkham Knight embodies the hopes and fears of the its hero at its heart. You’re all of Batman’s weaknesses and all of his strengths in Rocksteady’s beautiful, perfunctory package. You may stumble, you may fall, only to pick yourself back up again as Arkham Knight finds the redemption it’s looking for when it matters most, though not from its titular villain. Arkham Knight sets the fiery finale the Arkham saga needs, if not the one it ultimately deserves. For years to come, Arkham Knight will stand as Rocksteady’s last will and testament to a series it helped revolutionize. Finally, Batman’s earned his rest in peace.
An Xbox One code was provided by WB Games for the purpose of this review.
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